Saturday, February 24, 2007

Byte: Fools and their money

Ever since The Burning Crusade came out last month, I've been putting away the pennies to pay for my Swift mount - and more importantly, the cost of the training to able to ride it. As I've been on holiday this week, I've been seriously sticking in the hours to raise the gold. Outland is pretty spectacular for Uncommon drops, so in the last couple of days I've earned no less than 200g in drops and auction house revenue.

On Wednesday I bought the actual mount itself, but the training cost is a rather more prohibitive. Last night I had a couple of particularly lucrative items come in at the auction house, so I stumped up pretty much the whole of my cash and bought the training with just 1g50s to spare. A grand total of 630g spent in two days, but undoubtedly worth every copper, as now I'm the proud owner (and rider) of a Swift Frostsaber.

I had originally planned to bypass getting the Swift mount altogether and go straight for a flying mount once I hit level 70, but of course, Blizzard knocked that idea on the head, by making the flying mount riding training have the 540g's worth of Swift riding training as a pre-requisite before you can buy it. So now I have another three and a half levels to scrape up the absolutely horrific amount of money to train up for a flying mount. At least I'm only got another level and a bit to go until I get Flight Form, which should at least meant that I can explore Outland without fear of getting ganked. Though since I hit level 66, getting ganked by anything other than a level 70 is a much tougher prospect, now that I've really got to grips with PvP in dire bear form. I've got tactics worked out for warriors, hunters and the spellcasting classes, so I'm doing pretty well in PvP these days. As with most things, it mainly comes down to practice - knowing what to do in certain situations - speed of thought being more important than speed of hand... Maybe it's being high level, or maybe it's being in a decent guild, but I'm finding Outland much more enjoyable than Azeroth. If Burning Crusade is the only game I end up playing on the PC this year, I don't think I'll be too sad. At any rate, it'll probably the game I play most this year.

I've played a little Excite Truck this week as well - and it's mad as a brush. Just the kind of game that the Wii should excel at. It's fairly lightweight, but lots of fun. The control system takes a little getting used to, but the thing I adore about the Wii is the way that you interact with the games. I'm going to playing this one quite a bit, I think. Which is more than can be said for Zelda - I've not really given it that much of a chance yet, so it would be premature to judge - but I'm not hugely enamoured with it. Once I get into the main part of the game, I'm sure it'll pick up, but it's not really going to be tearing much time away from WoW in the near future, I feel.

Something that *is* taking time away from gaming is my revitalised passion for pencil sketching. My usual late Friday evening of gaming last night was supplanted by a couple of hours sketching. I'll stick them on Flickr later, no doubt, but I did a fairly detailed sketch of my right hand (obviously, I'm left-handed, so I sketched my non-drawing hand), which I was quite pleased with, as they're very difficult to draw. Not quite so good was the self-portrait I drew from memory. I'm still having a bit of trouble judging proportions, but I'm getting there. The self portrait doesn't look terribly like me (well, below the eyes, anyway) - it's interesting to see the gaps between what your memory thinks you look like and what you look like when you look in the mirror. I'll do another self-portrait next week, except with a mirror, just to see the difference.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Byte: Iain is on holiday. (In Outland)

I know I haven't been updating much lately, but I have a very good excuse. I am on holiday. Because my beneficient employers decided to change our holiday system, so that we can't carry over vacation days from one year to another anymore, I have taken my final remaining few days of holiday time, as I reside between projects at work.

Last Friday was quite touching, as I left the project I have been on for the best part of the last three years. I was presented with several bottles of very nice beer (Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc), and a copy of Brain Training for the DS. In a little less than a week, I start on my new project; maintaining and doing development on the UK's Air-Sea Rescue command and control system (innovatively called the RCS - Rescue Co-ordination System). Our customer is based up in RAF Kinloss in the very north of Scotland - so I have a week long site visit to look forward to next month, to help me get up to speed with the application. Other than that, I will be based back in Farnborough, my local office, which is great for me, as I don't have to do a huge commute every day (compared to when I was working every day in Winchester, or occasionally bombing down the A3 to Portsmouth). It's a nice tight team (4 full-timers, including the project manager, plus a couple of occasional consultants who help look after the hardware infrastructure and the Oracle database). I'm looking forward to it immensely. It helps you sleep better at night to know that the work you're doing ultimately makes a difference - this is literally an application that helps save lives. I think I'm going to be much happier working on this than doing the internal reporting work. Interesting as that was, it was too politicised a working environment for my liking, and you never really got the recognition you deserved for doing a good job. If it hadn't been for the fact that the actual people I was working with were utterly first rate, I probably would have left a lot sooner than I did.

I'm almost champing at the bit to get started with my new project, but I am enjoying my time off. On Monday I went into London with my girlfriend, to have a poke around the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. I'd not been there in years, and I just love going around these kinds of places. I've been to the Natural History Museums in London, Basel, Strasbourg and Paris (plus probably another couple I can't remember offhand) and I find them consistently compelling. There's just so many creatures that would never even enter your sphere of consciousness if you didn't visit these places. I also paid a visit to the art shop behind Leicester Square (on Charing Cross Road, just up from the National Portrait Gallery) and ended up spending nearly £50 on sketch books, super-soft pencils, and a couple of mechanical pencils and non-HB leads. I'd never seen 0.5mm leads for mechanical pencils that weren't HB, but here they had blue, red, 2H and 2B leads - so I just had to buy them. Sketching in HB is okay, but to get the depth of contrast you want, you really need to use a range of grades. So now I've got a whole set of pencils ranging from 6H to 9B, and I'm going to be practicing my sketching skills over the rest of the week.

I wouldn't say I'm even halfway decent yet - but I am improving. I'm starting to get the size and shape relationships right now. Judging scale isn't so much of a problem as being able to create genuine likenesses. I still have a lot of trouble with faces - not so much the shapes, but bringing out the character with the recreation of how the light and shadow casts on the face. I'm trying more to draw the light and shadow than the actual shapes (because doing the latter is almost too cartoon-like, with the huge contrasts and sharp edges). It's very difficult, but I think I just need more practice. Training your eye to see the differences in shade and shadow can only really come with experience. I have found that I'm definitely better at drawing at the small scale. Things look a lot better on an A6 pad than an A4 one, for example. When you have less space to work with, it helps you keep the proportions right; but I would like to be able to sketch well on a larger scale. That's my aim for this year.

Another aim for this year is to hit the WoW level cap. I've been doing quite well since the release of The Burning Crusade. This week I've gone from Level 63 up to 65. By the time I get my new PC (hopefully by Friday - it's in the building stage now), I might have hit 66. Which still leaves me another two levels to go until I get Flight Form, but I am enjoying the journey immensely. Nagrand is pissing me off a little, as it's full of level 70s doing PvP, which makes it almost impossible to quest without getting ganked to hell. Though on Monday night I did have a nice moment. I was jumped by a Tauren Warrior three levels my senior (66 as opposed to 63) when I was grinding a bit of leather in Cat form. I switched over to Dire Bear form and promptly handed his bovine ass back to him on a platter. Feral Druids are so ridiculously overpowered at the moment, that I fear for nerfing we're going to get in the next major patch. Though considering Druid isn't such a popular class, we may get away with it for a while. Hopefully until I reach 70 and I can hand out some mighty pwnage in PvP...

Anyway, that's enough of that. Back to the World of Warcraft. I have to work on my secondary skills. I maxed out on First Aid this week, but my Fishing and Cooking skills still need a lot of work...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bark: Just how cool is that?

I secured a role on a new project today, before I even finished work on the one I leave at the end of the week. This will please my professional and resource managers, as they won't have to fret about me spending any time "on the bench" (i.e. sitting around on my elbows doing nothing) for weeks... So my record of only being on the bench between projects for a total of two days in the space of seven years with the company remains intact. Major brownie points for me. It looks like a really interesting project, too. I'm going to be doing client/server development in VB6 for an Air-Sea Rescue command and control system, based up in RAF Kinloss (right in the north of Scotland) - with a bit of Oracle PL/SQL and C++ thrown in for good measure. They're looking to integrate in Satellite positioning data to track the helicopters in real-time on the application, so I'll be helping open up the application architecture to take the data feeds. Should keep me busy and out of trouble for the next year or two, certainly.

Not only that, I got word today that the guys building my new PC ran out of the GeForce 7950GTs I wanted in my new SLI rig. So they're giving me a *free* upgrade to GeForce 8800GTS's... Bonus!

AND it's Valentines' Day, so I'll have an amorous Frenchwoman waiting for me when I get home from work today. Days just don't get much better than this...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bark: Just bloody typical...

I've been charging around like a mad hellion for the last couple of months trying to get things in order before I leave my current project role at the end of this week, working pretty much all hours - including my birthday weekend. Today I travel down to Pearl Harbour (our pet name for HQ down in Portsmouth's North Harbour) so I can be on hand to sort out any trouble on the utilisation report production run, and so that I can invite my colleagues out to lunch for a farewell drink.

Of course, utilisation falls over in not just one big heap, but half a dozen, meaning that we have to work through lunch to get the reports out on time... I must be the only person in history to miss their own leaving party. We don't even make it out of the office.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bark: The Day After The Day Before The Day After Yesterday

I woke up at 7am this morning to find a whole two inches of snow on the ground. Cue traffic pandemonium within a 60 mile radius of London.

We're soft, Southern pansies! We think it's the next Ice Age if we get snow!

Against my better judgment, I run Fleur into work, because of course, they don't close the schools down here for anything other than a full-blown terrorist attack with dirty bombs and chemical weapons - a round trip of about 9 miles that usually takes about 20 minutes in what's laughably called "rush hour" traffic. One hour later... I'm safely back home (with no new dents on my car).

Remembering, for once, that I do actually possess a digital camera, I kill the 30 minutes or so before I need to start work by popping out and taking some photos, which I have duly uploaded here.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bark: Mann Hunter

Since my birthday weekend was effectively delayed by a week (thanks to work) I went into London on Sunday to meet some friends, have a somewhat belated birthday dinner at Harbour City in Chinatown, and otherwise just have a general shop around.

We met Chris and Tanya (our Canadian friends) in Foyles, and I made a beeline for the Cinema section, where I was most surprised to see a book on Michael Mann, which I immediately purchased as a birthday present to myself. It's pretty stonkingly good, too. Though I'm biased, of course, being a total Mann-whore...

So much so, in fact, that I've just been trawling eBay for DVDs of The Keep and The Jericho Mile, which are the only two Mann films missing from my collection. The Jericho Mile should be in the post in the next day or so (having found a Buy It Now for a sum total of £8, including postage), but I'm going to have to (excuse the pun) keep my eyes peeled for The Keep - as it appears to be rather hard to get ahold of. If anyone knows of a cheap, reliable DVD import site, shout out in the comments, please.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Byte: I couldn't agree more.

I wanted to rant about this, but it seems I was beaten to it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Byte: What have I done?

Never, ever use the internet when you're feeling a little depressed. After the utter abortion that was my birthday last Saturday, and having worked 12 days straight for a total of something over 100 hours, I did something I've been thinking about for a couple of months now.

I bought a new PC.

Not just any PC mind - a dual-core Athlon 64 X2 5200+ with 2GB of RAM, a 640GB Raid array, a Soundblaster X-Fi and a pair of SLI'ed 512MB GeForce 7950GT's. Okay, not *quite* at the bleeding edge, but then I didn't want to spend three grand on just a new tower. £1200 is quite enough already. So the old plastic flexed (and creaked a little) as I made the order, but if I get a solid two years out of this PC, like I did with my current one, it's money well spent. And at least when the new Unreal Tournament comes out later this year, I can look forward to being able to play it with everything ramped up to the max. Besides, having a new PC will hopefully pay for itself, as I won't have to turn down any commissions for new games that are technically demanding and would make my current PC weep electron tears from the CPU.

When the new PC arrives in the next week or so, my current PC will be reformatted and shipped up to my parents, where it will be swapped for their horrible little Celeron laptop, which I will completely pare down to bare necessities, so I can use it as a word processor on the move. Okay, and maybe an install of UFO: Enemy Unknown and Star Wars: Supremacy will sneak on there as well. (Given that's just about all the thing is capable of running)

So, yayyy! New PC! Yet, nayyy! Another grand on my credit card! But... NEW PC!